Legislative Digest

LEGISLATIVE DIGEST

April 09, 2009

Senate approves capital budget

The Maryland Senate gave final approval Wednesday to the state's $1.1 billion capital budget, authorizing borrowing to replace the state's aging medevac helicopter fleet, fund land preservation programs and launch more than $200 million in school construction. Senators voted 40-7 in favor of the plan, which is $265 million larger than last year's capital budget and required a $150 million increase in the state's borrowing limit. Sen. Allan H. Kittleman of Howard County, one of seven Republicans who opposed the budget, said the state "needs to have fiscal sanity." State lawmakers earlier gave preliminary approval to an operating budget of almost $14 billion, though senators and delegates are still negotiating the final details. The House of Delegates has passed a similar capital plan, and the two chambers will work to resolve their differences before the legislative session ends Monday.

Julie Bykowicz

Bill would widen relief for BGE customers

State lawmakers were working on an 11th-hour bill to expand eligibility for utility payment plans to all residential customers who have fallen behind on their bills, not just those considered low-income. The bill, which the House of Delegates will debate Thursday, clarifies the authority of the Public Service Commission as that regulatory agency works with utilities to address a growing number of past-due balances and service terminations. More than 200,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers have outstanding balances, but many do not qualify as low-income under federal guidelines. The PSC is expected to issue an order on payment plans. "We need to help people get beyond these very hard economic times in their lives as they also deal with these unusually high electricity bills," said Del. Brian K. McHale, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the public utilities work group.

Laura Smitherman

Compromise unlikely on licenses for illegals

The leader of the Maryland Senate said Wednesday that his chamber is not likely to compromise with the House of Delegates on the issue of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. "Basically, we're saying we are not going to reward people who have illegal driver's licenses," said President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat representing Calvert and Prince George's counties. "If you obtained it illegally, you're going to lose your license. It's a strong sentiment from the Senate." To comply with Real ID, a federal security act with an October deadline, the Senate proposed requiring all those applying for licenses or renewing them to provide documents showing they are in the U.S. legally. The House wants to allow illegal immigrants who already have a Maryland license to renew without proving their legal status. Delegates say their plan also complies with Real ID, since the licenses given to undocumented applicants would be marked "not federally compliant." House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said his chamber favors the "grandfathering" exception, but he noted that the delegates' vote on the plan was close. By contrast, the Senate overwhelmingly approved its proposal. The chambers have until Monday to work out differences.

Julie Bykowicz

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